REPORT FROM THE AUCTION ROOM
Big name Chinese and Indian artists and several premium lot artworks failed to sell at Sotheby’s October 2008 evening sale of contemporary and modern Asian art but the sale pointed to a new trend of enthusiastic collecting interest in South East Asian art.
Sotheby’s presented its first evening sale of Asian art in Hong Kong 4 October 2008 following Christie’s lead in the Spring auctions. Although Sotheby’s was more aggressive in the number of lots offered (Sotheby’s 47, Christie’s 32), Sotheby’s sale was generally a more diverse cautious offering compared with Christie’s. Sotheby’s presented:
- artworks covering more time periods (Sotheby’s contemporary and modern, Christie’s contemporary only)
- artworks from more geographical markets ( Both: Chinese, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Sotheby’s added Filipino and Indonesian)
- a greater price range at Sothebys with given estimates ranging from US$13,000 to more than US$3.85 million (Christie’s lowest given estimate was US$64,100 and ranged up to US$3.2m).
The results however could not have been more different. While Christie’s sale was a resounding success Sotheby’s sold only 28 of the 47 lots on offer.
The auction room was packed with all of the 200 or so seats taken and though more seats were brought in 30-40 people had to remain standing at the back. There were two rows of Sothebys staff (30-40 people) taking telephone bids. The auction room hummed with anticipation and got off to a roaring start with the first two lots. Filipino artist Ronald Ventura’s ‘Pinamumugaran’ attracted furious bidding and achieved a price of US$230,000 ex premium compared with estimates in the range US$13,000 to US$23,000. The next lot Indonesian artist Handiwirman Saputra’s ‘Mental Series No 8’ estimated at US$25,000- US$40,000 was also successful and eventually sold for US$140,000 ex premium.
Enthusiasm quickly waned during the next two lots of Indian art: lot 3 by Thukral and Tagra just exceeded the estimate and lot 4 by Jagannath Panda missed its estimate.
The first big upset was lot 5 Subodh Gupta’s ‘Untitled’ estimated at US$1.5 – 2million. Known as the leading Indian contemporary artist Gupta was the first Indian contemporary artist to be included in international auction sales. Sotheby’s had high hopes for this lot but it failed to meet the reserve and went unsold. This set the tone for the next 7 lots; although the works were by big name Indian and Chinese contemporary artists only 2 (Zhang Xiaogang and Feng Zhengjie) sold just scraping the bottom end of the estimates.
The remainder of the sale was slow and bidding was sticky apart from a couple of bright spots. Indonesian artist I Nyoman Masriadi’s ‘Sorry Hero, Saya Lupa’ estimated at US$48 – 75,000 attracted wide bidding from the room and phones and was finally sold for over US$500,000. Other artists who attracted several bidders and sold above estimates included Korean artists Lee Bul and Kang Hyung-Koo and Indonesian artists Agus Suwage and Affandi.
Contemporary Chinese artists who failed to sell any works in the sale included Liu Wei, Wang Guangyi, Tang Zhigang, Zeng Fanzhi, Yan Pei-ming, Feng Lijun. Chinese Moderns were not spared and lots by Liao Jichun, Chang Yu, Zhu Dequn were not sold. Other Asian artists who were not successful included Indians Subodh Gupta, Justin Ponmany, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and founder of new media art Nam June Paik.
Some commentators suggest that this sale has been less successful because it coincides with a structural turning point in buyers’ tastes which are speculative and fad-led by nature and that interest in Chinese contemporary art has been replaced with a new enthusiasm for Korean and South East Asian art.
Fads aside, the correlation between prices of works and demand is certainly striking demonstrating a new price sensitivity by buyers of Asian art. September’s financial meltdown is no doubt the leading cause of the many failures in this sale but other factors may also be involved. The number of auctions and fairs has exploded in the last two years providing excess supply of art just when demand is reducing. This Sotheby’s auction competes with the concurrent Hong Kong International Art and Antiques Fair in which art is shown by over 80 galleries in 5000 sq metres of space on the floor above Sotheby’s sale at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The Sotheby’s sale also overlaps with Korea’s leading auction house Seoul Auction’s first auction in Hong Kong which is offering high quality Korean Japanese Chinese and Western modern and contemporary works.
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